Tuesday, March 19, 2019
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Venezuela sacks fifth opposition mayor in two weeks

The Supreme Court handed down a 15-month jail sentence to David Smolansky as US slaps Caracas with fresh sanctions.

The Supreme Court of Venezuela has ordered the removal and imprisonment of a Caracas-area mayor for not obeying orders to shut down protests in his district.

David Smolansky is the fifth opposition mayor to be removed or jailed in little more than two weeks as President Nicolas Maduro attempts to consolidate his power by going after his enemies.

Smolansky was sentenced to 15 months in prison in a ruling Wednesday night.

Later on Wednesday, speaking from an undisclosed location, Smolansky rallied his people to protest to defend their district.

The former student activist had been one of the most prominent leaders of four months of anti-government protests that have left at least 124 people dead and hundreds more injured or jailed.

Ramon Muchacho, mayor of the wealthy Chacao district of capital city Caracas, was also sacked on Tuesday and sentenced to 15 months in prison by the Supreme Court.

He appeared in a video shot from a secret location rallying supporters.

New US sanctions

Meanwhile, a new wave of US sanctions targeted politicians and security figures but stopped short of actions against Venezuela's vital oil industry.

US officials said that energy-sector sanctions, which could cripple Venezuela's already ailing economy, are still being considered, according to Reuters news agency.

The sanctions followed Friday's installation of a legislative superbody known as the constituent assembly, made up entirely of allies of the ruling Socialist Party and armed with the power to re-write the constitution.

RELATED: Venezuela uses 'excessive force to crush dissent'

The sanctions, unveiled on Wednesday, will freeze US assets of the officials targeted, ban them from travel to the United States and prohibit Americans from doing business with them.

Washington clamped sanctions on Maduro himself last week following measures against 13 Venezuelan figures last month.

Maduro's popularity has been pounded by triple-digit inflation and acute food and medicine shortages which he blames on right-wing conspirators in league with the US "empire".

The opposition, which gained control of Venezuela's congress in 2015 only to see its decisions nullified by the Supreme Court, boycotted the July 30 election of the legislative superbody known as the constituent assembly.

Maduro says the 545-member assembly will bring peace and prosperity to Venezuela. Laws passed by the new body will not need approval from Venezuela's traditional congress, which met on Wednesday to discuss the region's response to the new body.

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